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Friday, May 5, 2006 - Page updated at 04:11 PM

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Dance Review

Breathtaking creativity, virtuosity in Mark Morris Dance Group performance

Special to The Seattle Times

If you can get a ticket for Saturday night's final performance by the Mark Morris Dance Group — the company's last performance in Seattle for the foreseeable future — then get one.

The company, founded by Seattle native Mark Morris and based in Brooklyn, is this year celebrating its 25th anniversary, and it has never looked better. Unfortunately, the group will not be part of next season's UW World Dance Series.

From the 1981 "Gloria," a ravishing piece set to Antonio Vivaldi's "Gloria in D," to the 2005 "Cargo," a curious work set to Darius Milhaud's jazzy "La Création du monde," the program presented at Meany spans the company's history. The four dances showcase all of the company's strengths, including the dancers' technical virtuosity and the musicality, humanity and intelligence of Morris' choreography. Morris famously insists on live music whenever he can get it, and two of the works were accompanied by excellent young singers and a chamber group of instrumentalists.

Coming up

Mark Morris Dance Group, 8 p.m. Saturday, Meany Hall, University of Washington campus; $45 (206-543-4880 or www.uwworldseries.org).




The most purely delightful piece on the program was the 1995 work "Somebody's Coming to See Me Tonight," a sweet bouquet of nine playful short dances set to songs by the 19th-century American composer Stephen Foster. And as the quartet of vocalists sang such lovely and melodious Foster songs as "Beautiful Dreamer," the dancers skipped through movements that described the lyrics in physical terms, conjuring a pastoral America, a time of Saturday-evening barn dances and lazy afternoons on the porch swing.

"Cargo," which was presented earlier this season during the company's gala anniversary performances in Brooklyn, refers to the cargo cults of Pacific Islanders. Like animals in a cage who find something strange in their midst, the piece — danced to Milhaud's brooding 1923 score — opens with dancers fearfully approaching a long wooden pole that has appeared inexplicably in the center of the stage. In their hands the pole quickly becomes a tool, a toy and a weapon, and the mood turns aggressive; one disconcerting recurring image is of the poles balanced horizontally on the shoulders of two dancers with a third dancer hanging motionless from the pole like a trussed animal carcass. "Cargo" can be read as a cautionary tale or a creation myth. Either way, it's a fascinating bit of dancing.

The program also included the 2004 "Rock of Ages," a plotless, crystalline piece for four dancers suggesting spiritual quest and spiritual renewal. It was set to a plangent piano adagio by Franz Schubert, performed live. And it's a testament to the brilliance of Morris' best work that "Gloria," his company's first big hit has lost none of its emotional punch or transcendent beauty. Fifteen years after I first saw "Gloria," I was left in the same state — breathless.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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